Link Roundup: August 2023

Last month, I published an article in The Asexual Agenda about initiation in mixed relationships.

Workplaces Without Borders And Sexual Harassment | Thing of Things – Ozy writes about how sexual harassment laws work best in a stable workplace environment.  In an “borderless” workplace, such as actors who work gig to gig, there’s a lot less protection, and little to prevent quid pro quo.  I think this is a consequence of the weird way that sexual harassment is constructed in US law.  If someone catcalls you in the street, we would colloquially think of that as sexual harassment, but in the eyes of the law it isn’t.  Sexual harassment laws are built upon employment discrimination.  So if it doesn’t affect your job, or if it’s targeted equally at men and women, then it’s legally defensible.

It’s okay to be bad at games | Clayton Purdom – An interview with Bennett Foddy about difficult games.  He talks about the game as a dialogue between the player and designer, rather than the designer just giving players everything they want.  He also says he wants players to admit they like the friction, that failure is a big part of the attraction.  I think that’s true of a lot of games and gamers, although personally I’ve found it useful to recognize that I actually don’t like much friction in games.  That’s why I like walking sims, which have so little friction that they’re often accused of not being games at all (though they totally are).

COGNITOHAZARD WARNING | Chinese Doom Scroll – This article describes a scandal that hit Chinese media in 2022.  There was a clip posted of an influencer’s house, showing a woman without teeth living in chains.  Chinese (government-run) media insists that it’s not a case of abduction.  Then later, they admit that it is, but seemingly lie about the identity of the abductee.  International media hears about it, and China suppresses the story.  Apparently this is representative of a broader problem of abduction and sex slavery in China.

Play as Transformative Work | T. L. Taylor (video, 1:14 hours) – This is a keynote talk in the Queerness & games Conference 2017–yes, I watch some obscure stuff–by a sociologist about video game streamers.  She talks about some of the basic realities of streamer work, and situates it within the context of fandom.  However, unlike most fanfic, streamers really don’t have legal protections, and generally operate only by the grace of the game designers.  She also observes how streamers break from the conventional model of passionate (unpaid) fans.  I think about this a lot because that’s essentially the model I come from, where blogging was always just a hobby and I never expected to make any money out of it.

Racist Bridges and Smelly Horses: What is a Queer Game | Matthew Balousek (video, 12 min) – Okay, another video from the same conference.  I don’t know what the title means, but I like his illustration of two axes of queerness in games (and media more generally).  Queerness can be represented (e.g. by having queer characters) or inscribed (e.g. by metaphorically reflecting queer struggles).  This echoes some of my own writing about representation, here or here.

The speaker is enthusiastic about “trojan horse narratives”–which bring queerness into media that straight people might consume–but personally, I’m a little less enthused.  Even if it’s about educating straight audiences, that’s still ultimately centering straight audiences.  Maybe it’s a bit selfish of me to say, I don’t like when we are not about me.  But I also have a hard time seeing straight audiences appreciating it either, when the term we’re using is “trojan horse narrative”.

I also have a few remarks about my own articles I wrote in the past month.

First, on empathy games.  It’s ironic really, because I’ve been hearing critics talk about (and complain about) empathy games for literally a decade.  But when I thought about it, I realized that probably most people have never heard of the idea, nor have they played any of the examples I might name.  I still thought it was a valuable concept to introduce to readers, because it touches on the broader subject of minority representation in media.  Although queer characters may be used to educate straight audiences, they also do something for queer audiences, and it’s not just about teaching “empathy” for people unlike ourselves.

For example, I recently played Venba, a short cooking game centering on an Indian-Canadian immigrant family.  This might be described as an “empathy game” insofar as it shows a minority experience.  But as a second-generation immigrant myself, I’m all too familiar with the emotional weight of ethnic food.  So for me it wasn’t really about empathy for an experience unlike my own, it was about seeing a representation of an experience quite similar to mine.

Second, on Firewatch being difficult.  I really didn’t mean this as a critique of the game, at least that wasn’t my primary purpose.  I was more interested in exploring the idea that a narrative game could be “difficult” even without doing anything to bar progress.  But a major reason I found the game difficult was that I wasn’t very invested in it’s narrative, and that’s a bit of a negative mark on the game.  But I also think it would be interesting to explore how a narrative game can have “good” difficulty.  For example, Disco Elysium is very thematically complex, and I like that about it.


  1. says

    Wow the one about the chained woman in China is messed-up. I had seen some headlines about that but hadn’t read what it was about. Sixth Tone is a really good source for news about China, they also have an article about it from March 2022 – I’ve also read Sixth Tone articles about how China’s policies on domestic violence are really bad, yikes.

    Also, I saw this video this month that you might be interested in – “How Hollywood Corrupts Trans Stories” (1-hour-23-minute video from Jessie Gender.) It’s about movies with trans themes that are really deep and affect every part of the whole plot- but then when people review the movies they seem to completely miss that and just say “there was a trans flag” or something really shallow like that.

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